So Long, Berlinale

03/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It is always tempting to attend an "A" Festival like the Berlinale and come away pronouncing grand judgments about the state of film and knowingly identify current trends in global cinema. Just what is the hotbed issue of 2009, what secret theme did all great filmmakers of the world have in their unconscious mind to unveil this year at the same time in their new films? Hogwash! No film festival of such a scope could possibly provide a true and accurate snapshot of up-to-the-moment cinema, nor is up-to-the-moment cinema a thing that can glibly be summed up. Specificity is part of the pleasure of the movies, the details that each film is filled with specific to its own time and place in the world. Details and concerns may indeed be shared between the movies of today, and they may indeed be fruitfully collected, categorized, and commented upon, but that is for the critics. For a regular viewer like me, it would be nothing but a gesture of arrogance to take a look at the Berlinale's Panorama, Forum, or Competition line-ups and say something about movies in the year 2009. Instead, what these films talk about is the state of the Berlinale, circa 2009.


It will be a year remembered for its supreme forgetability. Themes within and between the programs -- so broad as to be of little use: plenty of gay cinema, of cinema about a globalized world, cinema of monumental running times and dedication to their subjects, as well as monumental film stocks (the 70mm retro!)...are any of these things new? -- were muddled by programming one could politely call "erratic" if it wasn't, for the most part, consistently mediocre, and, dare I repeat, forgettable. Exciting cinema, the kind that gives its audience a buzzing sense of discovery, was lurking in the small theaters of the Forum's expanded selection of more experimental movies, in the Winter Ade series of Communist films from the 1970s-80s -- all unknown to me, and, from what I saw, all incredible and eye-opening -- and, for the more dedicated or comprehensive festival-goer, in the main programs if you could look long and hard. Like the rare resources of the world, there is always something special and precious to find if you dig deep enough, work hard enough. But perhaps the greatness of the Winter Ade series is not that the films themselves were so special -- though many were terrific -- but that the films have had time to simmer, that the present has moved on from then to now, and we can look back and see things there we wouldn't have seen at the time. Maybe the movies of today will be just as powerful twenty years from now.

At any rate, living in the present and thinking in the short term, should it be such a challenge to find good movies in such a normally (and potentially) excellent film festival as Berlinale? What were the films like which were rejected this year? And what, possibly, connects this year's line-up of dozens and dozens of movies from all around the world? It is a question I myself wished to answer in my two articles on the 2009 Berlinale, but again and again I find myself posing them to the festival programmers themselves. If this is not a fluke and is instead the unfortunately direction major world film festivals are starting to take, I only hope our modest website, The Auteurs, may become a refuge for those dissatisfied as I was with the way things are going.